The City’s Perplexing Priorities

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 16, 2005
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It’s interesting to observe the Honolulu City Council from a distance. It does a lot of exceptional things, and then a few things that are difficult to understand. The job must be very frustrating because of its complexities. I’m sure it would be almost impossible for the lay person to understand the criteria used to justify every proposal that comes before the council.

Just recently the council decided it was time again to get rid of the multitudes of street performers on Waikiki’s main drag. They want to pass a city ordinance that would ban mimes, jugglers, musicians and other performers from a five-block section of busy Kalakaua Avenue during a selected three hours each night. They were not adamant about which three hours would be designated; however, it is assumed to be during the hours of darkness and during the busiest time of the evening when the tourists are looking for some kind of free action. The odd thing is a similar ordinance was struck down by a state judge about four years ago. You have to ask yourself what’s changed between now and then that would make it permissible this time around.

It’s not a matter of life and death, it’s just curious behavior. It’s like time and money didn’t matter to them and the cost of the process didn’t matter to taxpayers.

It could be that individuals can spot incongruent behavior, but somehow lose that ability when they become part of a council, committee or authority serving the public interest.

I go to work early and see a lot of things normal working people don’t. Some of what I see is very sad to me. I drive down River and Hotel streets every morning and see 20 to 30 homeless people sleeping on the hard, cold concrete. Many of them have no blankets or any other means to keep dry when it rains. Once every couple of weeks a crew of government workers comes by to sweep the sidewalks at 3:30 a.m. so the homeless people have to get up and move somewhere else. They are probably not good for business and the proprietors pressure the HPD and councilmembers to have them moved out of the way. It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” remedy. The problem is, they always return.

So I have too much time on my hands, but I read the papers every morning and am intrigued to read the City and County of Honolulu is willing to spend $625,000 to move the Honolulu Zoo’s popular orangutan to a new enclosure and provide him with a female companion. It’s interesting that both orangutans have names - the male is Rusti and his mate is Violet - but unfortunately, no one probably cares or knows the names of the homeless people sleeping in the rain on the cold, hard concrete sidewalks.

Yes, I know why it’s important to take care of Rusti and Violet. What I don’t understand is why city officials are not equally concerned about the welfare of the homeless. There is little question that the proliferation of street performers provide entertainment for the tourists, but get in the way of pedestrian flow. Rusti and Violet truly enhance the educational value of the Honolulu Zoo, and their handlers probably make more wages and benefits than those who care for the homeless. Don’t misunderstand - I love primates, but let’s face it, they are still primates and people should come first.

I believe that the problem will be handled some day, but I’m convinced it will not be a problem solved by government. Rusti and Violet will have famous grandchildren before someone provides shelter for the homeless. It will probably be through the generosity provided by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which donates about $20 million a year to Hawaii’s charities. Of course, by then just about every charity in Hawaii will be named after Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, including

Honolulu Hale.

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